Researchers at a Québec university are investigating two of the country’s biggest cybersecurity worries: The readiness of power utilities to face cyber attacks, and the security of wireless industrial internet-connected devices.
News of the projects came Thursday when Ottawa announced it has given the University of Sherbrooke the second half of just under $2 million for the studies.
Sébastien Roy, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, and one of the co-principal investigators, told IT World Canada that the money was awarded over two years ago, when work started, but the announcement was delayed by the pandemic. Reports on both are due in 2024.
One project is assessing the resiliency of Hydro Sherbrooke, a medium-sized power distributor, in the context of Industry 4.0, particularly its ability to identify new threats. According to Roy, this project is almost done.
Industry 4.0 refers to the integration of new technologies (Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence) into a company’s production centres and overall operations.
The second project is analyzing the security of the industrial Internet of Things devices with 5G connectivity and edge computing. It includes studying the devices’ applications to agriculture, water management, and building management.
Partners in this study include Bell Canada, VMware, Honeywell, and the cities of Sherbrooke and Magog, QC.
For both projects, lessons learned will be spread through the electric, telecommunications, and IT manufacturing industries, Roy said.
The funding from Public Safety Canada came under the National Cyber Security Strategy.
The projects are being overseen by a multi-faculty and multi-disciplinary team involving five university faculties, 11 researchers, and more than 50 students from 14 countries.
“This work will strengthen the resiliency of Canada’s critical infrastructure, or the assets and equipment that a third party needs to access to offer its own product or service in a market,” the university said in a news release.
“There is a lot of synergy between the two projects, although the objectives are distinct,” said Roy. The underlying theme in both is protecting critical infrastructures. In the first case it’s energy distribution, the second is more about communications infrastructures.”
5G is different from previous cellular technologies, Roy said, in that it is less centralized and puts more control at the edge of wireless networks. That causes security concerns, particularly access authentication. It doesn’t help that typically 5G IoT devices “have no security,” he added.
“At the end we will be able to recommend good practices and technological architectures for these areas to the government and our industrial partners for specific use cases. In the meantime, we’re training over 50 students at the master’s, PhD and post-doctorate levels, in addition to a lot of interns, who will then move on to use their expertise in industry.”
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